In historic determination, U.S. Government acknowledges Rohingya genocide

(WASHINGTON, D.C., March 21, 2022)—United Nations Member States should publicly acknowledge the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and ensure the U.N. Security Council refers the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Fortify Rights today. In a historic determination, the Government of the United States today announced that the Myanmar military is responsible for committing genocide against the Rohingya people.

“It is a signaling and remarkable milestone for Rohingya victims and survivors that the U.S. has formally determined that the violence committed against Rohingya by the Myanmar military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Zaw Win, Human Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights. “It has been a long-term expectation for the Rohingya community. Declaring that what happened to the Rohingya is in fact genocide should spur international accountability efforts and make it more difficult for the Myanmar military to continue its atrocity crimes.”

Speaking at a briefing organized by the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the determination, saying: “Beyond the Holocaust, the United States has concluded that genocide was committed seven times. Today marks the eighth, as I’ve determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.”

Fortify Rights is in Washington D.C. attending the briefing.

In November 2019, The Gambia filed a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.’s highest court, for failing to prevent or punish genocide against Rohingya Muslims. The case is ongoing.

In September 2018, the ICC granted the Chief Prosecutor jurisdiction to investigate and possibly prosecute the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other inhumane acts. Last month, the Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, concluded his first visit to Bangladesh as part of the ongoing investigation.

While the ICC is investigating forced deportation, it is not yet investigating the crime of genocide against Rohingya, and the ICC has not yet accepted the National Unity Government of Myanmar’s declaration delegating jurisdiction of the court.

Fortify Rights documented the Rohingya genocide for several years, including in detailed reports dating back to 2015. In 2017, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Fortify Rights published a joint report documenting mounting evidence of genocide against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, which Secretary Blinken cited today.

In a 160-page report in 2018, Fortify Rights also exposed how the Myanmar military and civilian perpetrators prepared for and carried out genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. The report details how the Myanmar Army massacred Rohingya people, systematically raped women and girls, and razed hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine State. The attacks continued for several weeks, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya to escape to Bangladesh.

Fortify Rights previously identified 22 senior military and police officials responsible for the 2016 and 2017 attacks. Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who also launched a bloody coup d’état on February 1, 2021, is at the top of the list. 

The Myanmar authorities have also attempted to erase Rohingya identity and survivors have experienced an enduring mental health crisis.

“While today’s determination of genocide and crimes against humanity are focused on Rohingya, it’s also important to recognize that for decades the Burmese military has committed killings, rape and other atrocities against members of other ethnic and religious minority groups,” Secretary Blinken said during his remarks, recognizing the military’s longstanding and ongoing perpetration of atrocities in Myanmar. “Reports of these abuses are widespread. They are well-documented. They’ve occurred in states across Burma [Myanmar]. That history and the determination that we’re making today are fundamental to understanding Burma’s current crisis.”

Later this week, on March 24, Fortify Rights will publish a new 193-page report detailing the first six months of the Myanmar military’s post-coup attacks on the people of Myanmar.

U.N. Security Council members should immediately put forward a resolution to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC, said Fortify Rights. U.N. Member States should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the National Unity Government of Myanmar and get fully behind its efforts to delegate jurisdiction to the Court.

“Secretary Blinken’s announcement is historic for the Rohingya and all people of Myanmar and also for wider efforts to prevent and remedy genocide,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. “We’re grateful for all those who worked to make this happen. To prevent genocide, governments must at least acknowledge it when it happens, which is precisely what the U.S. government did today.”

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